Burka ban ruled out by British immigration minister

Britain
will not follow France by introducing a law banning women from wearing the
burka, the immigration minister has ruled.

Damian
Green said such a move would be “rather un-British” and run contrary to the
conventions of a “tolerant and mutually respectful society”.

He
said it would be “undesirable” for Parliament to vote on a burka ban in Britain
and that there was no prospect of the Coalition proposing it.

His
comments will dismay the growing number of supporters of a ban. A YouGov survey
last week found that 67 per cent of voters wanted the wearing of full-face
veils to be made illegal.

Mr.
Green used a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph, his first since
taking up his post at the Home Office in May, to issue a “message around the
world that Britain is no longer a soft touch on immigration”.

He
said the summer would see a major crackdown on the main streams of illegal
immigration — including sham marriages, illegal workers and people trafficking
— and confirmed that this autumn the Government would set an overall cap on
migrants entering Britain from outside the European Union.

Disappointment
to the Tories

His
firm decision to rule out a burka ban will disappoint some right-of-centre Tory
MPs, including Philip Hollobone, who has tabled a private member’s bill that
would make it illegal for anyone to cover their face in public.

Mr.
Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, said this weekend that he would refuse to hold
any constituency meetings with women wearing burkas.

The
United Kingdom Independence Party has also supported calls for a ban after last
week’s vote by French parliamentarians to outlaw full-face veils, including
burkas, in public. Deputies in France’s National Assembly backed the ban by 335
votes to one.

Mr.
Green said he did not think that the French vote for a ban would have an impact
on immigration into Britain.

“I
stand personally on the feeling that telling people what they can and can’t
wear, if they’re just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to
do,” he said. “We’re a tolerant and mutually respectful society.

“There
are times, clearly, when you’ve got to be able to identify yourself, and people
have got to be able to see your face, but I think it’s very unlikely and it
would be undesirable for the British Parliament to try and pass a law dictating
what people wore.

“I
think very few women in France actually wear the burka. They [the French
parliament] are doing it for demonstration effects.

“The
French political culture is very different. They are an aggressively secular
state. They can ban the burka, they ban crucifixes in schools and things like
that.

“We
have schools run explicitly by religions. I think there’s absolutely no
read-across to immigration policy from what the French are doing about the
burka.”

Muslims
see Britain as ‘welcoming’

Mr.
Green’s comments came after the new head of the Muslim Council of Britain told
The Sunday Telegraph that Britain was the most welcoming country in Europe for
Muslims.

Farooq
Murad pointed to the spread of mosques and sharia, or Islamic law, as positive
signs of the greater freedom Muslims are given in this country.

He
warned that any moves to restrict the expression of Islam by banning the veil
or blocking the building of minarets would alienate the Muslim community and
threaten social cohesion.

Mr
Murad, who last month succeeded Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari as secretary general of
the Muslim council, said: “Life in Britain is much more welcoming and healthy
for Muslims than in other European countries.

On
immigration, Mr. Green said the Coalition’s aim was to put “steady downwards
pressure” on immigration from outside the EU so that net immigration fell “to
the tens of thousands” by the time of the next election, expected in 2015.

He ruled out an amnesty
for illegal immigrants.

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